The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment
We use data from a field experiment to estimate worker reaction to incentives and the optimality of piece-rate contracts. Our estimate of the elasticity of output with respect to piece rates is 0.39. Regression methods cannot predict performance under hypothetical contracts. Therefore, we apply structural econometric methods (without imposing profit maximization) to evaluate observed-contract optimality. Using profit as a metric, we estimate the distance between observed and profit-maximizing contracts to be negligible. This suggests that observed contracts closely approximate optimal contracts under asymmetric information about worker ability. Under complete information, the firm could increase expected profits by 14 percent keeping workers indifferent to the observed piece-rate contract. Profits could increase between 44 and 49 percent if the firm exploited information about ability to reduce worker utility to the outside alternative.
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